A company called Fillamentum has developed a new material for 3D printers that can be used to print biodegradable objects. The filament or a thread-like plastic from which objects are made is called NonOilen and consists of a mixture of polylactic acid and polyhydroxyl butyrate on a biological basis.
Bioplastics – According to the company, NonOilen is food safe, meaning you can make cups, plates and cutlery out of plastic without fear of exposure to toxic chemicals. The most notable thing about the material, however, is that it is said to be compostable, which means that it can be broken down and reused in new objects or turned into biomass like compost and water.
Materials like NonOilen are often referred to as “bioplastics” and can theoretically be more environmentally friendly than conventional plastics. A 2017 study found that switching from conventional plastic to a bioplastic such as NonOilen can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent. Because bioplastics use organic material, they only use as much carbon dioxide as the natural plants used to grow. The tricky thing, however, is that bioplastics are difficult to reuse or compost after they are made.
Bioplastics are long-lasting – you can’t put them in your compost bin because they just don’t degrade quickly. Instead, they have to be sent to facilities where bacteria, due to high temperatures and oxygen, can break down the plastic into water and compost. However, these systems are unusual in the United States. Bioplastics cannot be shipped to the same conventional plastic recycling facilities as the entire batch of materials mixing could be rejected and sent to a landfill. Bioplastics can emit harmful methane gas if not properly composted or recycled.
American Recycling Is Broken – Most recyclable materials generally never get recycled and end up in landfills, even if they’re properly sorted into the recycle stream. That’s because American waste processing companies have relied on China to recycle garbage in the past, but that country abruptly stopped hiring US recyclables in 2017, a large market interested in buying recycled materials. Mainly because “virgin” plastic is cheaper than recycled plastic.
This means that biodegradable plastics like NonOilen are theoretically good, but not 100 percent environmentally friendly. It is difficult to actually reuse the material in a cycle.
Given the right circumstances, printing your housewares using biodegradable plastics is likely better than the alternatives. 3D printing has lowered the cost of prototyping new products, and now that prototyping could be a little greener.